June 3, 2008 / 9:02 AM / 11 years ago

Coup no answer to Thailand's political mess: general

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s political problems are too complex to be resolved by a military coup, the country’s top general said in an apparent admission that a bloodless 2006 putsch was a flop.

Police block the anti-government crowd near Government House in Bangkok May 31, 2008. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niumpradit, one of the generals who ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra two years ago, said growing political tension between supporters and opponents of Thaksin should be resolved by democratic means.

“Under the current situation, problems in the country are too complex to be easily tackled by a coup,” Boonsrang told a small group of newspaper and television editors late on Monday.

“International acceptance is a very crucial factor, so I don’t think any commanders in any military branch will want to launch a coup now,” Boonsrang, who was appointed overall commander of the army, navy and air force in October 2006, said.

Western governments led by the United States stopped high-level official visits and suspended some aid to Thailand after Thaksin was removed in the first coup in 15 years.

Washington stopped $35 million in assistance, including funds designed to promote military professionalism. It restored the aid after national elections in December marked a return to democracy and fuelled hopes for political stability.

But with the country still divided between pro- and anti-Thaksin camps, minor clashes on the streets of Bangkok on May 25 rekindled fears of a repeat of the protracted political turmoil that preceded the 2006 coup.

Army chief General Anupong Paochinda told his top commanders on Monday that the military would not intervene in a worsening political struggle that has unsettled Thailand’s stock market and given worried foreign investors a case of deja vu.


The caretaker government appointed in 2006 is viewed by most Thais as a failure after several botched economic policies.

The imposition of capital controls to fight speculation in the baht triggered the biggest one-day stock sell-off in Thai history. A plan to tighten foreign investment laws dismayed investors before it was shelved.

Boonsrang’s remarks appeared to calm investors on Tuesday, with the main stock index off only 0.34 percent after a 2.8 percent decline on Monday.

The index fell 4.8 percent last week, it’s biggest weekly decline since August 2007.

“Another coup would be the last thing that Thailand needs,” Vishnu Varathan, an economist at Forecast, said.

“It would undermine democracy and investors would leave if they thought Thailand’s investor friendly polices were at the mercy of the military,” he said.

Boonsrang said it was unlikely Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, also Defence Minister, would send troops to disperse the protesters in Bangkok after hinting at such a move in a televised speech on Saturday.

“They look peaceful to me,” Boonsrang said as watched a live telecast of Monday night’s rally from his reception house in a military barracks.

“Soldiers are trained for battlefields. The country needs to be run by different people with different expertise,” Boonsrang said, rejecting calls by some opponents of Thaksin to launch another coup to finish him and his cronies off politically.

However, he urged both sides to avoid dragging the monarchy into their political struggle.

“Don’t pull the sky down,” he said referring to 80-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a pillar of stability in 76 years of Thailand’s on-off democracy who is officially above politics.

Editing by Darren Schuettler and Bill Tarrant

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